November 4, 2007

Retired top rider Ian Stark had done what many top golfers do - moving from competing to building courses.

Competitors in this weekend's Galway Downs International Three-Day Event in California will will start over a cross-country course designed for the first time by Stark, a three-time Olympic silver medalist from Ashkirk, Scotland.

The riders, from the western United Sates, Canada, Mexico, Germany and South Africa, will find a revitalised course.

Galway Downs organiser Robert Kellerhouse said: "The course needed a facelift in some aspects, and Ian brings some fresh ideas."

Stark increased the size of the jumps at the first water complex and added an island there. He's also built a new Normandy bank complex, and he's altered or rebuilt many other jumps.

"I want to stamp my own feel on the course without overdoing it this first time, and we'll grow from here," says Stark, 53, who has succeeded Olympic course designer Michael Etherington-Smith, who'd designed the Galway Downs course ever since the event began in 1999.

Galway Downs is the first CCI (international three-day event) course Stark has designed on his own, since retiring from competition this spring and earning his international course designer's license from the Federation Equestre Internationale FEI).

But he's designed many advanced horse trials in England and has ridden in more than 100 CCIs at the two-star level and above. "I have a feel for what I think will ride well," he says.

Stark predicts his course "is going to, I hope, take bold and positive riding. An attacking mentality should do well on it."

He adds, "I think the sport has gone a bit too much toward the technical and even trappy. I want to get back to the good, old-fashioned cross-country riding, where people have a good feeling and a good feel for their jumps."

Stark has accomplished more changes than he and Kellerhouse had expected they'd be able to make for this event, partly because Kellerhouse hired six experienced course builders to implement Stark's plans. "I kept saying, 'This is what I want to do here', and Robert hasn't stopped me yet."

The two-star course will have about 34 jumping efforts over 4800m (2.6 miles). The one-star course will have about 30 jumping efforts over 3900m (2.1 miles).

Kellerhouse predicts: "The riders at the Galway Downs events are going to get to ride around a track built by a man who'll be one of the future superstars of cross-country course design."

He adds: "It's always been my goal to give our California riders chances to see what they'd see across the continent or across the Atlantic Ocean. The riders will be the beneficiaries of our having Ian Stark here to design this course, this year and in the future."

Galway Downs will also be hosting, for the first time, the Western North American Young Riders Team Championships, contested by teams from any USEA area. Young riders are between the ages of 14 and 21.

Memorial trophy

Among the many prizes for which the riders who negotiate Stark's two-star course will be vying is a new memorial trophy. The Mia Eriksson Memorial Trophy is being given in honour of the young rider who died after a fall on the Galway Downs course in 2006. A trophy will be awarded to the top-placing young rider in the CCI**.

Eriksson, 17, suffered the fatal accident while competing in a three-day event at Galway Downs. Eriksson's mount, Koryography, fell at fence 19, and crushed his rider.